By Allen White
Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.
Disciple Making is Not Complex.
Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.
First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.
Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.
Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did.
Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
Disciple Making is Customized.
Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.
While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.
I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!
In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s. But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.
Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!
How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.
This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.
Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.
My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.
There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”
Disciple Making is Obedience.
The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.
In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.
Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.
How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?
There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?
by Allen White
Some of you know me because I was your pastor at one time. Some of you know me as a fellow small group pastor. Some know me as the guy who wrote an article about Robin Williams that half a million people read. And, some know me as the Vice President of Lifetogether Ministries.
Lifetogether has had an amazing 12 months. We’ve created projects The Daniel Plan curriculum for Rick Warren, Destiny and Elijah for Dr. Tony Evans, Lifegiving Relationships for the Association of Related Churches (ARC), I See a Church with Greg Surratt and Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church, What If with Jonathan Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, You Have It in You by Pastor Sheryl Brady at The Potter’s House of North Dallas, Believe with Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and In the Gap by Pastor Wilfredo (Choco) De Jesus. And, I’m forgetting a bunch of others.
I am not a video producer. I am an executive producer, which means I solve the problems and pay the bills. While it was fun developing these projects, the greater fun for me is coaching churches who are launching small groups using these curriculum titles. It’s not about numbers. For me, it’s about an ordinary believer gathering a few friends around a user friendly curriculum and experiencing God using them to serve others. That’s why I do this every day.
What do you think about video curriculum?
By Allen White
Almost every small group pastor or director will agree coaching small group leaders is important. Yet, many of those pastors would also admit they don’t know how to adequately coach their small group leaders. Having tried and failed at various coaching structures many times myself, I have found three key issues in unsuccessful (and eventually successful) coaching.
Many coaching structures fail simply because no one knows what a coach is supposed to do. Is the coach an administrator or record keeper? Is the coach a trainer? Is the coach a figurehead so we can say we have a coaching structure? What do we expect our coaches to do?
If we need coaches to train leaders, then why are small group pastors still running centralized training meetings? Do we really need coaches to collect rosters and reports? Don’t we live in the 21st century? After all, churchteams.com will solve all of these administrative issues. (In an effort for full disclosure, I believe ChurchTeams is the best small groups’ database on the planet. Boyd Pelley did not pay me to say that. He did buy me an ice cream once.)
What do we need coaches to do? We need coaches to do the things we can’t do ourselves. If we had, say, five small groups, then what would we do with those leaders? We’d call them on a regular basis. We’d get together for a cup of coffee. We would personally encourage them, answer their questions, and pray for them. We would invest in the relationship. What if our coaches started there? Coaching is based on relationship. If there’s no relationship, not much coaching will take place.
A friend of mind called me a while back. He was frustrated because many of his coaches were quitting. I asked him what he was asking them to do. He wanted his volunteer coaches to hold a monthly training meeting with their leaders on the church campus. Then, I asked him if he’d ever driven in his city?
This was a major metropolitan area. So, think of requiring volunteer small group coaches to hold monthly training meetings in the middle of one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. It wasn’t working, and his coaches were quitting.
Face to face meetings are great. If you can pull them off with all of your leaders together, that’s really great. But, most people can’t. Fortunately, there are some alternatives.
Why not meet “together” with small group leaders on freeconference.com or Skype? Every day I coach small group pastors across the country over the phone or by teleconference. I’ve met few of them in person, but we connect on a weekly basis. We have a relationship, and they have seen success in growing their groups. This works with leaders locally too.
Facetime is necessary (the real, in-person version). Again, coaching is built on a relationship. But, maybe the face to face meetings are with one or two group leaders and not all of them. We can use other means to connect at other times. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a simple “Like” on Facebook or a bulk email to all of the leaders at once. The connection must be personal to grow the relationship.
Lack of Accountability
None of us likes to make people uncomfortable. Some of us avoid this discomfort to the point of not asking our coaches if they’re coaching. Then, we discover not much coaching is taking place. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Only what we supervise gets done. Now, we don’t have to come down on our coaches like a ton of bricks, but we do need to ask. Rather than asking, “Have you contacted your leaders?” we should assume the good, qualified people we recruited to coach are actually coaching. The question could go like this, “What are you learning from your leaders?” They won’t get defensive.
They might respond, “Well, I haven’t contacted any of them lately.” That’s okay. Give them a deadline, “I understand you’re busy, but connect with your leaders in the next two weeks, then I’ll check-in with you again.” Presuming the best about our coaches both honors and motivates them. Giving them accountability helps them keep their commitment to coaching and eliminates the guilt of not fulfilling their commitment.
Effective, motivated coaches need direction that is clear, reasonable, and accountable. How do I know? A good coach taught me that…as he was resigning. Do your coaches know your expectations? Do you know your expectations? Are your requirements reasonable? And, if it’s truly important, are you holding them accountable? These three simple words will transform your coaching structure.
Other Posts on Small Group Coaching:
Small Group Coaches Are Not Bureaucrats
Recruiting Small Group Coaches without Resumes
The Role of a Coach
By Allen White
When it comes to measuring up, most small group leaders fall short. That’s the simple truth. You’re not the only leader who fought with your spouse right before the doorbell rang and your first group member arrived. You’re not the only group leader who’s lost your temper, then felt the need to paste on a smile. What do you do when you feel like you don’t measure up to God’s standard? Should you stop leading? If that’s the case, we’d all stop leading.
In the Bible, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart” Psalm 15:1-2
While we should all strive to become more like Christ, if perfection is the qualification, then that sounds like a pretty empty tent to me. I hope Jesus enjoys His solo camping trip.
Every person on the face of the earth has fallen short (Romans 3:23). No exceptions. There are no perfect people. Now, this isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. It’s just the simple truth that even at our best, we just don’t measure up. Fortunately, there is also good news.
If the requirements are to be blameless, righteous and truthful, we all fail to meet those requirements. But, Jesus is blameless (Hebrews 4:15), righteous (Romans 5:17), and the Truth (John 14:6). Some would say the solution is to act more like Jesus. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) Only problem is, we can’t live up to that either.
Jesus always did the right thing. Jesus always had the right thing to say. He always had the right response to the Pharisees’ tricky questions. No one tied Jesus up in knots intellectually. No one got His goat emotionally. Nothing broke His connection with God spiritually. Imitating Jesus is not the answer. We’re just not that good.
What if we stopped trying to live for Christ and allowed Jesus to live His Life through us? Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus doesn’t desire for us to try to become like Him with our own efforts. Jesus just wants us to get out of His way, so He can do His work.
Our job is not to work hard on being blameless and righteous. Our job is to remain connected to the Vine. Sometimes we’re so busy with the appearance of the fruit, we forget the connection to the Root. Decorating ourselves with artificial fruit might fool some of the people, but we’re really only fooling ourselves.
Disconnection from Christ doesn’t produce fruit. It produces death and uselessness (John 15:6).
How do we remain connected with Christ? First, we keep ourselves in constant conversation with Jesus. Not out loud in public places like some kind of a freak. But, to ourselves. Rather than mulling things over and over in our heads – replaying old tapes that keep us defeated – we need to talk to Jesus about it. “I don’t feel too good about this meeting coming up. What should I do? How should I handle this? Please guide me and help me.” And, guess what? He does.
When we read the Bible, it’s not for the purpose of discovering more things that we’re required to live up to but can’t. The Bible reveals God’s vision for our lives. When we read things that might seem impossible to do, we take those to Jesus: “Jesus, if you want me to be kind and compassionate like you said in Ephesians 4:32, you’re going to have to do that in me, because I’m not going to get there on my own.” As we surrender ourselves and give our natural responses to situations over to Jesus, He will guide our words, our actions and our steps.
Here’s the best part – the blamelessness, righteousness and truthfulness required to dwell with God is exactly what Jesus gives us. We aren’t blameless. We don’t become righteous on our own. We walk in the Truth by allowing the Truth, Jesus Christ, to live in us.
What part of your life doesn’t look like Jesus? Before you start beating yourself up, ask Him to create Christlikeness in you. You just might be surprised at how Jesus can change you for good.
Doing ministry without the power of Christ is like trying to fly without an airplane. You and I lack the ability. Doing God’s work in God’s way with God’s power will reap God’s result. You are not alone.